First of all, let me clarify: Christmas, to me, is nothing to do with religion. Christmas is a feeling. It’s a time when everything is a little bit sugar coated, slightly more rose tinted. It’s a time to look back at the year, as it comes to a close, to remember the good bits and learn from the bad bits. A time to be giving and a time to be thankful.
Christmas, and the excitement around it, is one of those things that divides people. There are those who, like me, obsess over it and want to decorate by mid-November. As soon as Halloween is done, my playlists switch to festive tunes and I want to immerse everyone around me in the joyful spirit.
There are those who despise people like me and look down on us bumbling idiots. They grudgingly put a tree up, to please someone else, a week before Christmas and scowl or audibly tut when the Christmas music starts.
Then, there are those who believe ‘live and let live’ and smile serenely on as the rest of us go slightly mad.
I had a happy childhood. I see now that that was mostly thanks to being too young to understand some of the things going on around me, but regardless, they were good years. But at Christmas, everything was better.
The house was clean! We had more visitors so pretences had to be kept. I got to see the grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles that we didn’t see enough during the year, because everyone feels they have to make more effort at Christmas. For the most part, I tuned out the arguments.
Not only was the house clean more often than not, there would be one morning where my brother and I would come down the stairs to find the house had been decorated over night, as if by magic! Those classic sparkly decorations hanging from the ceiling, the stamp of a 90s Christmas. A tree (always fake, due to the dogs, and needles and… I don’t know why really) would go up, with my brother and I taking it in turns to be lifted up by Dad to pop the star, or the fairy on top. Snow globes would adorn the mantle pieces, stockings would be hung from our bedroom doorknobs and (what seemed to me) 100s of cards sellotaped to every wall.
At Christmas, there was always plenty of food, and good food at that. More treats than we could eat, constant roast chickens, beef, vegetables, then the big day with turkey and all the trimmings. Whatever else I could say, my parents always worked hard, so the gifts from Father Christmas helped make this a magical period for us.
Oh, and the music. I always knew good times were coming when I could smell furniture polish and music would be playing from the stereo. This would happen on the odd weekend throughout the
Then, one Christmas day, my Dad left.
We woke up early, excited as ever. Even though I was 18, my younger brother and I still ran into our parents’ room and opened the gifts in our stockings on their bed. Once that was done we decided to go and visit our Aunt, Uncle and two cousins who lived nearby, to exchange gifts. Dad said he wasn’t feeling well so didn’t want to join. We headed over, had a lovely time. My Aunty Michelle, who was terminally ill with Pompe disease, was in great spirits so the drive home an hour or so later was a happy one.
We turned onto our road and instantly realised Dad’s bright red, unmissable Jeep was gone. I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time but I felt the air stiffen as Mum froze. She knew. And I knew it wasn’t good. We pulled into the drive. It felt like no one was even breathing. Walked in the front door and saw the hurriedly scribbled note.
I’m sorry. I can’t do this anymore.
That was it. Nothing else seemed to be gone, except the TV from the kitchen but somehow, it was like the place had been gutted. I was gutted. Life was hard for many years after that Christmas day. It was a long time until we heard from our Dad, or so I remember it. There was a lot of bitterness, a lot of hate, a lot of sacrificing the life I had dreamed of in order to help take care of a mother who was utterly, entirely, and devastatingly broken.
Christmas became my least favourite time of year for a long time. I didn’t want to see the decorations, hear the music, and remember that note. Remember the constant money worries. The permanent impending doom of losing the house, of Mum not making it home one night.
The house didn’t get tidied any more.
But as I got older and learned about forgiveness I realised that I couldn’t continue to let one person ruin something that had once meant so much to me. So now, finally, 13 years later, I enjoy Christmas again, and with gusto. It took time, but these days I hardly feel the pain in my chest. Now, the music, the scent of cinnamon and the ambient fairy lighting all help to soothe me and I can once again feel that extra bit happier at Christmas, no matter how good or bad life is. I again manage to feel thankful for the year that has passed, and every year before it, and all the experiences that made me into Rhi, 2018 edition.
Christmas reminds me of the good times gone past and reminds me of the times I barely survived and ultimately reminds me how lucky I am and how incredible life is.
So, next time you want to be a grinch-like asshole and mock someone for loving Christmas and putting their decorations up before November is even